Video of the Day: Splitscreen: A Love Story

Whether you love or hate Valentine’s Day, there’s no escaping the amorous feelings in the air today. We might as well make a contribution with today’s Video of the Day. This short film, released last summer, celebrates transcontinental love: two sets of eyes, one in New York and one in Paris, passing days with similar experiences until the moment the eyes unite (reunite?) on London‘s Golden Jubilee Bridge. Cue single tear. The video will undoubtedly tug on the heartstrings of anyone who has ever attempted a long distance relationship… or at the very least make you want to visit the three cities.

Splitscreen earned the top spot in last year’s Nokia Shorts 2011 competition, which armed a select group of filmmakers with the Nokia N8 phone and a $5,000 budget. The film was shot entirely on the N8 by a team led by filmmaker James W. Griffiths, beating out seven competitors for the top prize. They do say that love conquers all.

A Traveler in the Foreign Service: (Not so) sexy time

Hugh Hefner wouldn’t make a very good Foreign Service Officer (FSO). FSO’s serving overseas need to disclose information about their lovers to the embassy’s Regional Security Officer (RSO), who in turn conduct investigations on foreign-born romantic partners to ensure that they aren’t likely to blackmail or manipulate them. There are no secrets and playboys tend to crash and burn before their careers can take off.

Managing relationships in the Foreign Service can be a travail, even for the monogamous. I was (and still am) happily married during my tenure in the service, but I have second-hand experience with this topic, vis-à-vis single and divorced former colleagues.

The expatriate experience tends to test marriages in a way that everyday life in the U.S. might not, and weak relationships don’t last long. My wife and I arrived at our first post as newlyweds and found that we needed to rely on each other more so than at home. When you arrive in a new country with no friends or relatives to fall back on, you spend an inordinate amount of time with your spouse and don’t have the same support network you would at home. In our case, and for many other couples, the experience brought us close together, cementing our bond. But that is not always the case.

I’ve heard people say that divorce rates in the Foreign Service are high, but I’m not sure they’re any higher than they are in the general population. But in the fishbowl world of the Foreign Service, where the line between one’s personal and work life is often blurred, divorce can take a toll on careers.

A former colleague told me that after he separated from his wife and arrived at a new post single, everyone seemed to already know his story. He said he was “the object of huge curiosity and scrutiny.”But it’s probably even harder for single women trying to pursue relationships in the service. Of the single men I know who joined the service, many found spouses while serving overseas, but most of the single women I know who joined in the last 5-10 years are still single, not all of them by choice. FSO’s typically move every 2-3 years, and many women find it difficult to find men in developing countries who are interested in a career woman whom they’d have to follow around the world. And even if they do find someone of interest, a moment of truth arrives at the end of the tour. When you live in Uganda and are off to Honduras next, what to do?

A single female I know told me that everyone knew who she was sleeping with at most of the overseas posts she’s served at. “You think the walk of shame is bad?” she wrote to me, in response to a question about the difficulty of dating in the Foreign Service. “Try having to call your Sudanese driver in the morning to pick you up in an armored Suburban. Talk about humiliating.” She said the “logistics” of Foreign Service life made it impossible for her to settle down.

At some posts, FSO’s live on a gated compound adjacent to the mission, and if one wants to bring home a lover to spend the time, they have to present an I.D. to an armed guard and pass through metal detectors and submit to being frisked on the way in. Not much of an aphrodisiac to say the least.

Some FSO’s, most commonly men, who might be considered slightly less-than-marketable products on the dating scene at home, do manage to trade up for attractive spouses they find in developing countries. Everyone has a story about a dorky guy with a lovely wife but, in reality, people marry for all kinds of reasons, including for money or status, even in the U.S., so odd relationships certainly aren’t the sole provenance of the expatriate or FSO.

Many a potentially good career in the Foreign Service has been ruined by philandering. Some lose their security clearances for serial cheating, which is thought to make one vulnerable to blackmail; others simply destroy their corridor reputations. The lack of privacy can be daunting, but, in reality, it probably encourages FSO’s to be faithful to their spouses, which is obviously a good thing.

The State Department has made strides of late in helping gay and straight FSO’s who live with unmarried partners, but trying to live overseas with what are called MOH’s (members of household) is also a huge challenge. FSO spouses, considered EFM’s (eligible family members) in the government’s acronym happy parlance, typically enjoy full diplomatic status overseas and can travel to posts at government expense. But MOH’s do not.

All this said, experiencing a new culture with a spouse or a new lover can be an awful lot more exciting than a stay-at-home marriage or trying one’s luck on eHarmony. But if you’re thinking of joining to the Foreign Service because you want to live like Heff, think again.

Read more from A Traveler in the Foreign Service here.

Image via Horrible Giant Jungle Flea on Flickr.

Sexy goddess bares all in Boston

The ancient goddess of love, sex, and beauty is making an appearance at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Aphrodite and the Gods of Love is a new exhibition examining one of the most popular ancient goddesses and her place in the Classical world. More than 150 ancient works of art are on display, including famous pieces such as the Knidia, a life-size sculpture of Aphrodite made by the 4th-century BC Greek artist, Praxiteles. Another interesting piece is the Sleeping Hermaphrodite, a reclining figure who from one side looks like a voluptuous woman, and from the other like a man.

The exhibition traces Aphrodite’s sexy origins in the Near East and the place of her cult in Greek and Roman society. Aphrodite was a Greek goddess who was adopted into the Roman pantheon as Venus. She was the symbol of romantic love and ideal beauty. She also oversaw marriage, an odd choice since many of the myths surrounding her involve her cheating on her husband, the blacksmith god Hephaistos (Vulcan). Men worshiped her because she aroused male virility.

Being in charge of such important aspects of life made Aphrodite extremely popular. She was the patron goddess of Pompeii. Interestingly, Ramsay MacMullen in his Paganism in the Roman Empire points out that altars in private homes in Pompeii were more often dedicated to Foruna, Vesta, and Bacchus than Aphrodite. Perhaps because love received so much public worship, people felt they needed to give good luck, the home, and drinking some attention. They can be related, after all!

McMullen’s book (which I highly recommend) also touches on various ways the Romans worshipped Venus, including picnicking in the orchards around her sanctuary in Cnidus, and wild processions where a woman playing Venus led a string of dancing children playing Cupid. She and the other deities were very much part of daily life.

The exhibition also looks at related figures of Classical mythology, such as Aphrodite’s sons Eros (Cupid), the well-endowed Priapus, and Hermaphrodite.

If you want to meet this lovely lady and her interesting offspring, you better hurry. Aphrodite and the Gods of Love is only on until February 20, 2012.

Top photo: Fresco of The Judgment of Paris, Roman, Imperial Period, 45–79 A.D. Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei. Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli. © Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


The Museum of Broken Relationships finds permanent home

Way back in 2007 we reported on the Museum of Broken Relationships, a traveling exhibition of mementos from love affairs turned sour. Well, the idea has been gaining steam, and now the museum has opened up a permanent exhibition in Zagreb, Croatia.

The museum is perhaps unique in that all of its collections come from individual donations. They come with a story too. Take this teddy, for example, donated by a woman who wrote, “‘I love you’ – WHAT A LIE! LIES, DAMN LIES! Yes, it’s like that when you are young, naïve and in love. And you don’t realize your boyfriend started dating you just because he wanted to take you to bed! I got this teddy bear for Valentine’s. He survived on top of my closet in a plastic bag, because it wasn’t him who hurt me, but the idiot who left him behind.”

Ouch. Love hurts. The museum contains hundreds of stories like this. There’s the wedding dress from a failed marriage, the artificial leg of a man jilted by a nurse, and a guy’s cell phone he gave to his girlfriend so she couldn’t call him anymore.

Is there anything you’d donate to the Museum of Broken Relationships? Tell us in the comments section! Is there anything I’d donate? Nope, I threw it away years ago.

10 ways to deal with a bad travel partner

I tend to make reasonably good travel decisions. I pack appropriately (and always bring a sweater), I consult maps, and I tend not to eat anywhere that includes the phrase “o-rama” (i.e., “Bob’s Fish-o-rama.” So NOT a good idea).

But even those of us who make great (dare we say, flawless?) travel decisions falter now and then. Especially when it comes to picking a travel companion. For some reason, people tend to change dramatically when on a trip. It might be that the oxygen-rich recycled air has gone to their brain. Or that jet lag, combined with one-too-many in-flight drinks, has brought out their inner crazy. Maybe it’s the stress of being somewhere new and strange. Whatever the reason, you may have the misfortune to find that, no matter how great you are at making decisions for your trip, you’ve managed to pick a travel companion who … well, who just plain sucks.

Perhaps they snore incessantly, or chew with their mouth open. Maybe they’ve used your last clean shirt … as a handkerchief. Whatever the reason, you are not getting along. As the trip progresses, you feel tempers running short and a screaming match between the two of you looms on the horizon. But you’re stuck together. You might be thousands of miles away from home. You might have no one else to talk to. You might even be sharing the same bathroom.

First off, take a deep breath. Having a miserable travel companion doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to have a miserable trip. These tips and tricks will ensure that you’ll both get home in one piece, and, with any luck, you’ll still be talking to one another, too.

Kill them … with kindness.

You will notice I said WITH KINDNESS. As ridiculous as it sounds, being excessively polite and kind to your loathsome travel mate will probably help ease tensions (I’m not saying it’s easy, but it will help). Plus, they’ll find it exponentially harder to stiff you on the bill or be an all-around snot to you when you’re acting so darn nice. And in the end, you’ll come across as the good guy — because a travel companion who’s “being too nice” isn’t really something they can complain about.Don’t lose your cool.
You may feel a scream bubbling up in your throat, your hands clenching into fists, and know that a fight is mere moments away. Whatever you do, keep your temper in check. Count to ten, grab a snack, or do something else to get your mind off the situation. Blowing up at your travel mate isn’t going to make you feel any better — it’s actually more likely to make you feel worse. You could end up saying something you regret (“I wish you were never born … MOM!”) making for a very awkward flight home.

Spend some time apart.
Even someone you adore can grow a little tiresome after 6 days/7 nights together. If your travel companion wants to spend the day at by the pool, and you’re dying to explore the museum, why not go your separate ways for a few hours? It will give you both time to relax and cool down, and you might actually start to miss each other. Maybe. Or, at least, hate each other less.

Speak up before something becomes a problem.
If you suddenly find yourself traveling with a morning person, and you’re a night owl, let them know before you’re too sleep deprived to be civil about it. Bringing issues up before they bother you means you’ll be calmer — and less likely to have a vicious, hair-pulling fight about what time to set the wake-up call.

Select activities that involve little interaction.
Sometimes you might not be able to get away from your travel buddy, no matter how hard you try. When you’re absolutely stuck, try activities that don’t require a lot of teamwork. Instead of sharing a canoe, grab individual kayaks. Go see a movie (or if you can’t agree, see different ones!) Avoid ballroom dancing at all costs. It will end badly.

Make new friends.
If your travel partner is turning out to be a dud, why not try befriending some other travelers? You’ll have new people to talk to, and possibly commiserate with! You might meet someone who’s sharing an hotel room with an ex-con — or worse, a lousy tipper. It will make your situation seem like a dream by comparison. Can’t find anyone to talk to? Chat up the bartender. You might even get a free drink out of the deal.

Get some exercise.

Not only will a quick jog or swim give you some much needed alone time, but it will also help burn off all the pent-up anger and stress you’ve been lugging across three timezones. Plus, those endorphins can help calm you down and make you forget all about that fiasco with Homeland Security.

Remember: You aren’t exactly perfect.
Your mom might find your little quirks endearing, but not everyone does. Odds are, your travel partner could be just as fed up with you as you are with them. Keep this in mind, and you may suddenly find a new wealth of patience when it comes to dealing with your travel buddy’s flaws (“Well, she didn’t get angry when I borrowed her sweater, so I guess I’ll forgive her for puking in my suitcase.”).

Avoid contentious topics.
Maybe you’re a Mets fan, and he loves the Yankees. Or perhaps he watches Leno, and you’re with Coco. Whatever the case, try to avoid topics on which you disagree, not matter how tempting. It will only stress you both out, making future altercations more likely. Instead, stick to subjects on which you share an opinion: like how unicorns and cake are awesome.

Think of what a great story it will make later.
So you plan a trip to the Bahamas with an old college friend, only to discover he has a crippling case of eremikophobia (a.k.a., fear of sand. Seriously. Look it up). While seemingly disastrous now (because he doesn’t want a single grain of it in the hotel room) it will make a great tale to tell later. Try to see the humor of a dismal situation.

Rotten travel companions have happened to the best of us. Share your story — and how you lived to tell the tale — in the comments section below!

Read more:
What makes a good travel companion?
Uncommon traits of a good travel companion
Coping with a travel disaster

[Photos: Flickr | Evil Erin; W. Volk; jrodmanjr; StrudelMonkey]